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Dorm TVs and more: Best back-to-school streaming boxes and TVs

Whether you're looking for a simple plug-and-play dongle or a brand-new TV, these are the best affordable streaming devices for a dorm room (or anywhere else).

Yes, school should be all about hitting the books. But only the most dedicated student is going to forgo a TV in the dorm. The good news is that cable and satellite is no longer needed -- you can even ditch a disc player, too. That's because nearly every TV sold now is a "smart" model with built-in streaming options. And even an old hand-me-down "dumb TV" can be streamified with the addition of a $30 to $50 add-on.

We've covered all those angles below, with favorites at every price level. Keep a few things in mind:

  • This list is Roku-heavy because that's our favorite affordable smart TV operating system. But Amazon Fire TV streaming sticks and TVs are decent substitutes, if you're OK with a slightly more limited app selection.
  • Amazon Prime Day is July 15 and 16. Target and eBay have already announced sales those days as well, and we expect others to join them. That would be an excellent time to buy a TV or streaming device at a discount.
  • All of the TVs have at least two HDMI ports, so they can be connected to game consoles, laptops or any other modern video source.
  • Most the products below are 2018 models because they're excellent values for the price. We'll update this list throughout the summer when and if new products supplant any of our current choices.

All of these have been independently chosen after being fully reviewed by CNET editors. Note that CNET may get a share of the revenue if you buy anything featured on our site.

Sarah Tew/CNET

For far less than the price of an average textbook, the Express covers the basics beautifully, has quick response times and Roku's dead-simple interface. And if they have an older TV without HDMI inputs, the Express+ is a great choice.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Plus has all the Roku goodness of the Express with the addition of 4K HDR video, as well as a point-anywhere remote with the ability to control TV volume and power. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Speaking of TV remotes, combining the TV and the streaming apps on one screen, with only one remote required, makes it even easier. TCL's entry-level S321/S325 includes built-in Roku streaming for a really affordable price. The 32-incher can be found for under $120 at Walmart; even the biggest size (49 inches) costs just $250.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Although it comes as small as 43 inches for $300, Vizio's E series really hits its stride at the 55-inch and bigger sizes, including the 65-inch model seen above for a mere $650. This 4K HDR TV has all the fixin's, in a size suitable for most living rooms. (It's being replaced with 2019's V series.)

Sarah Tew/CNET

CNET's favorite TV for the money in 2018 is equipped with a better image than the Vizio E and Roku's smart TV system. Prices start at 55 inches for around $500 while the awesome 65-inch size seen here is just $700. And yes, you could even get them the massive 75-inch model for $1,400.

Sarah Tew/CNET

To be perfectly honest, it would be tragic to bring this best-in-class TV into a dorm only to have it sullied by a spilled beer or knocked over during a frat party. But if someone in college -- or anywhere else -- wants best-in-class picture quality, it begins and ends with LG's OLED technology. You'll pay a hefty premium, but this 2018 model is still a better deal than the newer 2019 C Class OLED, which offers only a smidgen better performance.

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